How much do we care whether the United States countsauthoritarian regimes among its best friends? An early test case for the new administration will be that of Egypt, where the blogger Abdul Kareem Nabil Soliman is being held in prison, in terrible conditions, for insulting Islam and defaming President Hosni Mubarak. On Thursday, former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky assailed Egypt’s treatment of Soliman, as rallies were held near Egyptian embassies around the world.
This is a new example of an old problem. On the one hand, the righteousness of the Cold War was based not only on the Soviet threat to the West, but also on grotesque Soviet human rights violations. On the other hand, the insistence that American alliances in the Middle East be connected to human rights has been dismissed, in recent years, as neocon agitation. Egypt is a major recipient of American foreign aid. And there are many who consistently propose going soft on Egypt, in part because of its role as intermediary with Israel, and in part because of the fear that the regime is always at risk of being overrun by powerful Islamist forces.
So: what will Obama do?